“It was Father John Reve in the river with the candlestick!”
The Western Wind is a 15th century murder mystery that transforms the faltering town of Oakham—with its modest parish church and untamed river that cleaves its citizens from the world—into a medieval game of Clue.
Though you’ll want to know about the events that lead to Thomas Newman’s death as much as I did (don’t worry, I didn’t spoil it above, nor will I spoil without warning below!), The Western Wind is much more than a Dark-Aged whodunnit.
Harvey’s writing is gorgeous, her characters humble yet wildly intriguing. The novel debates with itself about old and new crises and questions of faith: sins, confession, who has the ear of God, who arrives in heaven, and whose prayers and paid offerings get them there. The writing is psalm-like: poetic, though discordant with its contrasting voices on faith. However beautiful its lyricism, the true art of this novel lies in its chronology, which, over the course of four days, walks the readers backwards into both ignorance and knowing. Like Father John Reve later in the novel/earlier in the story timeline, we the readers don’t always know that we “underst[and] precisely” what is revealed, “even though [we’d] anticipated” it all along, since we already know the outcome (240). The story makes us sure and unsure as we tread toward the truth confessed.
I’d recommend this book to high school students (especially advanced high school students) and above, as its complications read like a classic. My instinct is to compare it to Pillars of the Earth, but this isn’t about corruption and faith. There is genuine searching in this novel, and it endears the characters to us, however imperfect they may be.
I love the last line of the novel:
“[It] would never come to be” (294).
This is true—it will never come to be if you only ever tell the story backwards.